Paul Graham runs Ycombinator, a Silicon Valley based startup incubator. He previously started and sold Viaweb to Yahoo.
Paul’s essays have had a tremendous impact on how I think about projects, business, and life.
Below are just a few of my own reflections as I’ve read through a few of the posts on his website.
Perhaps these lessons might help someone on their own startup journey.
Lessons from Paul Graham’s Essays
- Build something people want, will use, and pay for.
- Create an easy way for people to pay you for it.
- Create something that “a small number of people want a large amount”.
- The initial customer should initially be a single human, not an enterprise. While it may be an enterprise in the future, the first delivery channel should be via solving a unique and specific problem for someone.
- Build something where you are the first user. Product or service should solve a real, specific problem that you have.
- In order to do this, keep a list of stuff that annoys you, stuff that irritates you… Use it as fuel for the company.
- As the founder, you should use the product all the time.
- Simplicity: it should be simple, not complicated. Do the simple things really well.
- The problem should be easy for the founder to solve.
- Pick a project you can work on every day. You have to be consistent and it has to be a habit.
- Consistency is the greatest predictor of success.
- Execution wins 99% of the time, and persistence wins all of the time.
- Many days you won’t be able to spend much time. However, daily practice will create a positive habit. On rare days (Friday afternoon perhaps) when you find a chunk of extra time, sprint.
- You will be able to make headway and really push the ball forward because the project is fresh in mind.
- Do things that don’t scale.
- An unscalable process can become a service-based business, which can later be productized. Service co’s are easier to brute-force into existence.
- The activation energy of a service co. is much much lower than a product co.
- Use the tool on behalf of the user if necessary.
- Remember, users have other important stuff to think about besides your co.
- Recruit users manually.
- This can be done via a niche community that you are in some way a part of. If you’re not part of any special-interest groups, find one on reddit, twitter, or facebook groups from which to create a spark of interest.
- Hack a product MVP together that is quick, simple and non-technical.
- Get the MVP in front of users ASAP. Leverage ChatGPT. Today is a unique and rare time with this new technology.
- Think of your initial version not as a product, but as a trick for getting users to start talking to you after they initial icebreaker. The MVP is just a way to have those 2nd level conversations with users.
- Use a medium that lets you work fast and doesn’t require much commitment up front… such as spreadsheets, notion, performing a service, typeform, stripe, email, airtable, google sheets, convert kit, etc. Lookup “email first startups” for more ideas
- Build a “core component” with a slight bit of novelty that brings users value.
- Be careful if you charge for the core component… you may charge for add ons.
- Iterate, test, learn, improve.
- Use the scientific method to formulate hypotheses about the “killer feature” in the product.
- Conversations with users are your way of testing the hypothesis.
- Think of your project as a way to learn and not just as a way to make something.
- Even if the project itself is a failure, you’ll still be better from it.
- You need at least one reference-able customer and sale. This will help with future projects and customer acquisition.
- Consider the build in public movement
- Could even write about “following the PG Approach”… basically just following Paul Graham’s advice that he shared on building a startup.
- Refer to the “micro-saas” movement on making modest but adequate stream of money.
- Pick a name that you buy the .com of.
Anti-advice: follies to avoid
- Avoid risk & ruin.
- Avoid anything that feels scammy or incurs undue financial, regulatory, or compliance risk.
- Avoid creating a company that relies on yourself or another’s “personal brand”.
- Don’t build something that is bad for people.
- Don’t try to build a marketplace, and definitely don’t try to build a 2-sided marketplace.
- Don’t worry about competition.
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